The Underdog Must Win
David and Goliath. Field of Dreams. Star Wars. Rocky. The Sandlot. The Hunger Games. Underdog stories never get old. We can't help loving them. They also contain a distinctively American flavor, probably because this country only exists because the underdog triumphed. A few ragged colonies, against all odds, gained victory against the greatest world power of its time through an unrelenting commitment to values they would die for. Every American is brought up, from a young age, in such a way that his heart beats a little faster when he sees a scrappy underdog with a heart of gold fight back and conquer the faceless machinery of power perpetuating power.
This is in fact the story of the gospel. Jesus, God himself, came to earth in the humblest of forms to live his entire life in poverty, oppression, and institutional persecution. But hidden within Christ was the power of God almighty who, through the most dramatic turn of the tables in history, vindicated not merely Christ and his band of followers, but loosed the powers of the evil one over this entire world (I Jn 5:19).
Our current political and social climate wishes to champion the same values, but we have transposed the fight for inalienable rights of human liberty and representation to the inalienable rights of the underdog. The #Ibelieveher movement represents this impulse, (though trigger warnings flow from the same desire) which now crops up in every field and level of society. The righteous drive behind that particular hashtag battlecry is that women and their dignity, rights, and reputations have fallen prey to a system which advantages men in positions of power. This is a perfectly sound, Biblical complaint and cause. God takes his stand in judgment against those who wield their power and influence toward the end of selfish gain.
"The Lord will enter into judgment with the elders and princes of his people: 'It is you who have devoured the vineyard, the spoil of the poor is in your houses. What do you mean by crushing my people, by grinding the face of the poor?'" God holds accountable people of power for their manipulations at others' expense, and he wants us to do the same. However, whether those who use the above hashtag intend to do so or not, the statement "I believe her" can easily trade one form of injustice for another. Taken as a bald mantra of perspective, which is increasingly how we form beliefs, we can, and perhaps should apply that slogan to account more weight to a woman's testimony than to a man's, based solely on the grounds that she is a woman and he is a man.
It doesn't stop at that, however. There remain still deeper layers to our accepted program of bias. The deeper unquestioned belief is that not only does the underdog deserve a right to be heard, but the underdog is right because he is the underdog. After all, what could you possibly know, not sharing the underdog's position, about the inequities he has suffered? Therefore, the reasoning can run forward, unless you sit in the victim's chair, you cannot feel the extent or gravity of the oppression he has suffered. Large companies, Americans, white men in suits, police, and media are, by their very nature, not to be trusted. But this "new" appreciation of power dynamics does not improve the search for justice, it merely relocates the seat of judgment away from a third party with biases (which we all should surely acknowledge), to whichever seat the victim happens to occupy. The victim is, ipso facto, the rightful judge. This is assuming of course, society grants that person's representative group "victim status", which is another discussion to itself. This approach assumes that the scales of justice can be more fairly balanced if we accommodate to the underdog and compensate in his/her direction. Such a merciful compensation may even dress in the appearance of Christian charity. In reality, we have not come any closer to true justice: the biases may shift, but do not disappear.
I hate the Patriots as much as the next person, but the underdog does not and should not always win. Job's discourse with God serves as a prime example. Job complains that "there is no arbiter between us (him and God), who might lay his hand on us both." But when God asserts his rights, power, and supremacy, and calls Job to question, Job, to his credit, realizes: "I am of small account; what shall I answer you? I lay my hand on my mouth." Imbalances of power are not, as a universal, wrong or evil. We must hold ourselves and our judicial evaluations to a high standard which replicates God's impartiality. But Christians should remember that Adam was the first to give unilateral preference to the rights of the underdog.
Justin Poythress (PhD, Westminster Theological Seminary) is the assistant pastor of student ministry at Christ Community Church in Carmel, Indiana.